The Spot: Wrigley Mansion Club 2501 E. Telawa Trail, Phoenix 602-955-4079, www.wrigleymansionclub.com
The Hours: Happy Hour is offered from 3 to 6 p.m., Wednesday through Saturday.
The Interior: Perched on a hill that offers sweeping views of the city, The Wrigley Mansion is one of Phoenix's great landmarks, a gorgeous, 16,000-square-foot, 24-room winter "cottage" blending Spanish Mission Revival, California Monterey and Mediterranean architectural styles. Chewing gum magnate William Wrigley Jr. built the house for his wife Ada between 1929 and 1931 to commemorate their 50th wedding anniversary, furnishing it in grand style for the presidents and other dignitaries who often visited.
The Wrigleys, who owned four other residences, only stayed in La Colina Solana (the sunny hill) four to eight weeks out of the year, but it remained the largest private residence in the state until the early 60's, when it was re-zoned as part of the family-owned Arizona Biltmore. After Ada passed away in 1958, the resort went through a series of owners, as did the mansion.
But in 1992, Hormel meat-packing heir George A. (Geordie) Hormel bought the old place with the idea of preserving a wonderful piece of Phoenix history. He restored the building and grounds, reducing the annual membership fees to $10 so that everyone could afford a visit. It's a great spot for a private party or a meet-up after work to watch the sun go down. During happy hour, the lounge menu offers six items at half-price. The Food: In all the years it's been open to the public (and we're going back to the 80's here), the Wrigley Mansion Club has never turned out exceptional food. Some years and some chefs have been better than others, but nothing truly memorable has ever come out of that kitchen. And what a shame, given the beauty and history of this incredible venue. Although it's clear there's been an attempt to update and invigorate the menu (and for all I know, regular meals here are great), happy hour is a bit of a dud for a couple of reasons, one being the snoozy collection of offerings.
Everybody and his mother offers a charcuterie plate or cheese board these days, so the competition out there is stiff, and frankly, the WMC is not in the running for either. Silky prosciutto, fatty salami, toasted baguette and cornichons offer a good start, but a little knob of nondescript pâté, crummy black olives and limp, thick water crackers (like powder in the mouth) hardly make the heart beat faster. Considering the five buck price, I guess it's decent, but I'd rather pay more to eat better.
The cheese board, which comes in various sizes and price ranges (at happy hour, $5 for three cheeses, $7.50 for four, $10 for five), features the same dreadful crackers and two of the worst cheeses in recent memory, one granular and studded with blueberries, the other a forgettable lump of something-or-other containing mango. Seriously? This is such an easy one to get right. There are lots and lots (and lots) of good cheeses out there. No need to torture people in this fashion.
Our server -- who must be told to bring water, asked to replenish it and reminded we need a knife to cut the burger -- swears the chicken wings are wonderful, telling us the kitchen brines them to make them extra-moist. What I like about them is the sweet-spicy, vaguely Asian sauce (sticky with honey), that coats them. They're crispy on the outside but not quite as juicy inside as brining would suggest. Still, they're among the best of the happy hour offerings, despite a stack of water-logged and completely tasteless celery and carrot sticks ($5 at happy hour).
The Wrigleys were Chicago people, so offering a Chicago-style, Wagyu-beef hot dog on a poppyseed bun is a clever touch. Because it's being shared, the kitchen has cut it in four portions, arranging condiments and add-ons such as mustard, relish and onion on a long, separated serving tray. There's no denying this is a juicy, flavorful dog. I'd eat it again -- by myself next time, so I could pile on the goodies with abandon ($6 at happy hour).
I've had a handful of great happy hour burgers in recent months and Wrigley's version isn't really a contender. Nevertheless, I like finding gooey melted cheese in the middle of this Angus burger, served with butter lettuce and what is purported to be an heirloom tomato ($5.50 at happy hour). Accompanying fries aren't house-made but at least they're crispy.
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SHOW ME HOW
The Drink: During happy hour, domestic beer is priced at $3, well drinks at $5 and select wines (meaning a Wrigley-labeled Chardonnay and Cabernet Sauvignon) at $5. Nothing particularly exciting here.
The Conclusion: Of course, the mansion is wonderful, but the food and drink at happy hour? Eh. You can make do with a decent burger, hot dog or wings and drink in the view -- which is still the very best reason to visit this place.